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Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11: America looks back, forges ahead

9/11: America looks back, forges ahead
By Rod Lockwood
September 11, 2011

Ten years later it still doesn't make sense.

Passenger jets slicing through a beautiful blue late-summer morning and hurtling into the World Trade Center, plowing into the Pentagon, and falling to earth in a Pennsylvania field.

Two of the most recognizable symbols of commerce buckling and tumbling to the ground like broken toys. Everyday folks on a place transforming into heroes and sacrificing their own lives so that others would survive the day.

The people who died in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001,
were accountants and secretaries, firefighters and police officers,
IT workers, janitors, and soldiers.

They were husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, children and grandparents, uncles and aunts, and lovers and friends, all going about their days exactly like the rest of us, reveling in the mudnade sense of purpose that we take for granted until we see it snatched away from someone else.

One minute you're drinking coffee and telling a co-worker about your
weekend. The next, you're standing at an open window 90 stories
over New York, desperately gasping for your last breaths and facing
a horrifying choice.

The thought is so sobering and raw and real that those of us who lived through that day -- from the grieving family members to everyone who watched from afar -- will never be the same.

We are scarred and battered, and the event was so big that
sometimes it feels like just now we're finally dusting ourselves
off as a nation.

Since 9/11 there have been two wars that caused the deaths of thousands of Americans, Iraqis, and Afghans.

The financial markets collapsed, a recession rocked the economy, and we've become mired in political dysfunction that illustrates just how self-absorbed and short-sighted we've become as a nation.

Remember after 9/11 when politicians from both sides of the aisle vowed to work together?

Remember that patriotism was defined in its most basic form as a love of country and a commitment to pulling together in the face of adversity so that we all would be stronger?

Remember the firefighters and police officers who waded back into those buildings to try to save lives?

Somehow we seem to have lost all of that good will, which is its own form of tragedy.

The question, 10 years later, still seems to be: Where do we go from here?

Do we shrug and think, "Gee, I hope that never happens again …" as we turn away and scream at a linebacker to kill someone on the other team?

Do we tune in to our favorite ideologue and nod stupidly when he or she points fingers at the other side and says, "It's all their fault. … "?

Or do we look back at 9/11 and see examples of what we're capable of as individuals and as a nation?

That was a day a handful of brave Americans on United Airlines
Flight 93 pieced together what was going on thousands of feet
below them and made the conscious decision to risk everything --
to never see their children or their spouses again or hold a baby
or hug a parent -- to prevent more people from dying.

No doubt there were Republicans and Democrats among those who charged the terrorists and no doubt those philosophical divisions were meaningless in those moments.

That was a day hundreds of New York City firefighters and police officers didn't flinch when they were called to do an impossible job -- fight a jet-fuel fire in a burning skyscraper dozens of stories above Manhattan.

As heroic as their actions were, it's a safe bet that none of them thought, "Today, I will be a hero." Instead, they were simply doing their jobs as best they could.

No doubt there were liberals and conservatives among them, men and women who argued about politics and social issues in the engine houses and squad rooms, and no doubt their disagreements were meaningless when those buildings were burning.

That was a day that across the country millions of people did small things to help the folks suffering in New York, at the Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania.

We moved toward the disaster and the family members rather than away from them.

In the weeks after 9/11, New Yorkers continued to risk their lives cleaning up the massive mess, and people from all over the country pitched in however they could.

In the midst of that tragedy, our true nature as a nation was revealed.

Tapping back into commitment could give us hope that there's a
way out of our current mess and provide a road map for handling
the inevitable disasters that will occur in the future.

Think of it like this:

Who cares about ideological differences or abstract interpretations
of public policy when you just want your husband or wife to walk
through that door for the first time in 10 years and tell you it has
all been an awful nightmare?

We owe it to those people, we owe it to the thousands who died on
Sept. 11, 2001, and we owe it to ourselves to use the anniversary
of 9/11 each year to reboot our real patriotism -- not the kind that
involves shooting off fireworks while listening to classic rock --
and think about what's best for the country and what's best for our
neighbors, not what's necessarily best for ourselves.

Perhaps then it will all start to make sense.

Rod Lockwood is a Staff Writer at the and he
can be reach at

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